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Image Search with Google Shopper and Google Goggles

Cameras are for more than taking pictures, and smartphones are more than communications devices. Combine the two, and you have a handheld device that can "look" at objects and tell you about them.

For example, the Shop Savvy app (free for iPhone, Android, and Nokia) and similar apps can scan a barcode and return information about that product, with web links and reviews.

But why require barcodes? The new Google Shopper app for Android offers three forms of product search: plain old text search, voice search (say the product name), and image search.

With image search, Shopper continuously scans the image from the camera, looking for a recognizable product -- not only barcodes, but also cover art from books, CDs, DVDs, and video games.

In seconds, it identifies the object and returns information including prices, reviews, detailed specs, and links to sellers. You also can save history and favorites to access even if the phone is offline.

And Shopper does not even need to see the entire cover -- I was able to use it to quickly recognize books from just the top of the cover, and CDs from just the artist's face.

Shopper packages the product search features demonstrated in the earlier Google Goggles app (also free for Android), which does more general visual search. It identifies products, also including wine labels, as well as generally recognizable objects including landmark structures (buildings and bridges) and famous artworks.

Plus, Goggles does text recognition for business cards to extract contact information, and Google has demonstrated a new version that does more general text recognition and transition, for example for highway signs. While Shopper just constantly looks for something recognizable, Goggles waits until you take a picture to start the search.

These are amazing -- and useful -- apps, harnessing the Google image search and product search engines and databases in the cloud to turn your phone into an almost real-time recognizer. And this is just the beginning -- Google is not terribly specific about exactly what kind of stuff these apps recognize. For example, it turns out that Goggles also does general image search to find matching images on the web, whether or not they are further identified as known products, landmarks, or artworks.

So keep a look out for further updates -- There are plenty of other objects around us that would be useful to recognize, including faces. Hmmm ...

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on mobile apps

See my article Augmented Reality Goes Mobile - for more on AR apps, including Google Goggles

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